With the aim of discussing the ills of food poisoning this article mainly highlights which food item is ideal for bacterial growth. Once we have a basic understanding of bacterial growth, ideal conditions and its effects on the human body, necessary precautions and methods of destroying foodborne pathogens get easier to adopt.
We all are familiar with the presence of microorganisms in our ecosystem. These include bacteria which exist practically in every part of the world.
Not all bacteria are harmful to the human body.
Some are even used in a number of food processes. Some are even present inside our body and aid the digestive process. Those bacteria are known as probiotic bacteria. However, bacteria which are known as pathogens, are toxic in nature and causes various diseases in our body. Any food contaminated by such bacteria should be avoided, or the process of contamination should be hindered altogether.
What is Bacterial Growth?
In scientific terms, bacterial growth is the spread of a bacterial colony within a substance. It means bacteria residing over a substance intaking all the nutrients while releasing all the by-products out of their system.
Pathogenic or nonpathogenic bacteria require certain important elements for their active growth. Once such optimum condition is achieved they multiply and produce more bacteria.
The greater the number of bacteria the greater the amount of the chemicals released. Since food items contain all the essential macronutrients, it is ideally the best place for bacteria to grow on.
Conditions Ideal for Bacterial Growth
Like the human body, bacteria depend on air, food, and shelter, meaning optimal conditions to sustain in the environment. In order to avoid pathogenic invasion of your food, you just need to know where they can thrive easily.
Water is absolutely essential for bacteria to break down food molecules and consumes it. This is the reason that food items preserved in the damp environment easily get contaminated by bacteria. Excess water molecules present around the food, in fact, aid the bacteria for growth, such as water availability or water activity has to be avoided.
Food items which are stored in conditions with more than 0.95 water activity are known to be ideal for bacterial growth. This is the reason that it is always advisable to preserve food items at cold and ‘Dry’ places.
Aerobic bacteria survive on oxygen only. However, foodborne bacteria are both aerobic and non-aerobic. Cutting out air supply to in certain cases can help prevent contamination as most of the company packed items are available in airtight sealed containers.
Temperature plays an important role in bacterial growth. Temperature ranging from 41 to 135-degree Fahrenheit is ideal for bacteria to multiply. So, store food in the refrigerator for a longer duration to avoid bacterial growth.
Signs of Food Spoilage
Bacteria are invisible to the human eye, so their presence cannot be detected directly but we can always look for the signs of contamination.
Food items which are left at room temperature, for a longer duration of time in a humid environment are most prone to bacterial attack. These not only in appearance but starts to smell differently due to the release of toxic chemicals. Though such food should never be tasted, the taste also changes after contamination.
Vegetables or fruits which are mostly firm in form turns soft and pale. Due to enzymatic breakdown, the color also changes. Saucy food items get a slimy appearance on top. Any liquid with bacteria growth appears more cloudy than usual. If you notice any of such signs in your food, do not use it anyway because it can end up causing diarrhea, nausea or stomach pain.
Myth: Foods That Allow Microorganisms to Grow are Called Parasites
This statement is actually false. Foods that allow micro-organisms to grow are known as substrates. They can also be referred to as the ‘host’. The micro-organisms that grow on these foods are the actual parasites as they depend on the food to grow.
Bacteria are quite diverse in form and nature. They can sustain on a number of food items. But mostly it is the ‘High proteins’ food which attracts most of the parasitic bacteria. These include:
- Meat including beef, pork, lamb, etc.
- Gravies containing meat, mixed with vegetables
- Cooked fruits and vegetables
- Cooked lentils and legumes
- All raw dairy products like milk, eggs, etc.
The dried form of any dairy products like powdered milk or dried egg powder is not prone to bacterial growth, hence can be stored safely at any temperature. However, adding water to the dry products can start bacterial growth.
Beside main food items, additives like sugar, acids, salt or preservatives are also responsible for bacterial growth. Especially when they are present in a concentrated amount in the food. Remember to carefully store such items.
What Food Does Not Support Bacterial Growth?
Basically, raw foods do not support bacterial growth. There are other forms of food that does not support the growth of bacteria. As we progress in this article, we’ll take a detailed look at these foods.
Below, is a detailed list of foods that do not support bacterial growth:
1. Frozen Meat
Once the meat is stored in the freezer, it tends to cease all the possible bacterial activities. No bacteria can survive and reproduce at this low temperature. Thus, frozen meat does not support bacterial growth.
2. Dried Food Items
Any food item which is present in dried form like powdered or granular form, do not contain enough water to support bacterial life. Hence these can also be used without any such worries.
3. Dry Spices
Spice or condiments which are stored in clean, dry containers, never get contaminated with bacteria. Even in sauces, the bacterial invasion is minimum because of the low protein content.
4. Raw Vegetables
Raw Vegetables are not ideal for bacterial growth. Raw carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, potatoes, etc. are not ideal for bacterial growth. However leafy green vegetables when stored in humid condition can allow bacteria to grow.
5. Sealed Canned Products
Canned products until sealed do not allow bacteria to grow. The absence of air is the key to this.
Bacteria cannot sustain in anything with oil as the base. Since pickles are made out of vegetables and oil, they do not allow bacteria to grow.
The Most Common Way of Reducing Foodborne Pathogens in Food is?
Toxins from pathogenic bacteria can be destroyed by freezing and cooking: these are perhaps the most common methods of avoiding food contamination. Other than that, there is a number of ways to look for.
Cooking: Cooking helps in destroying the bacteria or agents which can cause bacterial growth. Foodborne pathogens do not reproduce on high temperatures hence they cease to multiply. Freshly cooked food never shows any sign of spoilage.
Freezing: Another extreme of reducing the pathogen to grow is ‘freezing’ at extremely low temperatures. As already discussed, bacteria cannot thrive at low temperatures. Thus, any food item being frozen can store for long durations with spoilage.
Pickling: Pickling is the centuries-old method of preserving food items at normal temperatures. This method has been in use since the time when there were no refrigerators. It makes good use of oil-based substances to store vegetables or fruits.
Dehydrating: Removing water from the food item means killing the chances for bacteria to sustain. This is the reason that many of the store packed food items are available in dried form.
Food Contamination Caused By Pathogens Can Be Controlled By Good Personal Hygiene
Besides all the preservation methods, the following tips must be followed while dealing with the food in daily life to avoid bacterial growth.
- Never leave the food at room temperature, especially in summer. If not using, keep it in the refrigerator until further use.
- Make sure that the food is thoroughly cooked especially meat. Otherwise, bacteria tend to sustain inside and cause illness. Use a thermometer to check the doneness of the meat.
- It is good to wash the hands with warm water or use a hand sanitizer before handling the raw fruits, meats, and vegetables.
- Utensils are the basic carrier of foodborne bacteria if not washed properly. Make sure to wash after every use.
- Do not defrost meat or any other food item by placing at your kitchen counter. Rather keep it in the refrigerator or place under running cold water or use the microwave to defrost. This method does not allow bacteria to attack and poison the food.
- For marination, remember to keep the marinating food in the refrigerator if the marination time is longer than 5 to 10 minutes.
- Stuffing the refrigerator with several food items can affect its working consequently the internal temperature, and humidity can rise which can allow bacteria to grow. So, avoid overpacking your refrigerators.
- The United States Department of Agriculture proposes that food should be kept out of the danger zone to avoid bacterial growth. This means not leaving the food for more than two hours outside the refrigerator or for 1 hour if the room temperature is higher than 90 degrees.
Which food item is ideal for bacterial growth? Well now you know it’s not just the type and form of the material but the related conditions and methods of preservations which decides if the food is suitable for bacterial growth or not.
When you minus all these conditions from the equation, you can too enjoy fresh and healthy, pathogen-free food while harnessing maximum benefits out of it.